Monster Culture and Psychology

Jeffrey Cohen highlights the monster as a complex aspect of both societal, cultural, and individual identity. He expresses the idea that, “Monsters are our children…they ask us why we have created them” (20). As we can therefore view the monster as a product of our own fears, influenced and possibly created by the environment we live in, the monster very much resembles our inner-thoughts and is a metaphorical representation of mental processes.

Cohen demonstrates that we can “[read] cultures from the monsters they engender” (3). The idea that our deepest fears are usually socially shared arises as Cohen states, “the monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and projection, the monster exists only to be read…” (4). As gender and race exist as social constructions, so does the monster and the body of the monster. It reflects the boundaries of a culture and therefore reflects the our own thoughts of what is socially acceptable or not. For example, “the monster prevents mobility…to step outside of this official geography is to risk attack by some monstrous border patrol or (worse) to become monstrous oneself” (12). Cohen illustrates the monster as our own psychological fear about being rejected from society and how stepping outside of social/ cultural norms is looked down upon.  The monster is often portrayed as wild, out of control, dangerous; “[monsters] declare that curiosity is more often punished than rewarded, that one is better off safely maintained within one’s own domestic sphere than abroad…”(12). Therefore by illustrating monsters as the extremist products of social constructs and by portraying them often in an evil manner, we are reminded of the boundaries that our society or culture values.

In addition, Cohen points out that the monster somewhat gains power from its non-conformative form; “the monster’s body is both corporal and incorporeal; its threat is its propensity to shift” (5). It is not concrete in its form, parallel to our own fears, and may arise at any time. Like psychological fears, disorders, memories, “The monster notoriously appears at times of crisis…” (6). Like the deer women in the comic that we read in class, she symbolizes the trauma of sexual assault and appears in times when women experience it. The monster has the ability to disappear and reappear which is out of a human’s control, much like mental processes. Cohen shows the parallel of this concept in the monster,”And so the monster is dangerous, a form suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions” (6).

Lastly, the monster shows our inter-most desires that we cannot publicly express. Cohen states, “The monster is continually linked to forbidden practices, in order to normalize and enforce. The monster also attracts. The same creatures who terrify and interdict can evoke potent escapist fantasies…” (17). The monster embodies these desires;”Through the body of the monster fantasies of aggression and domination and inversion are allowed …” (17). When evaluating the monster one must wonder, does the monster represent our own libido (referring to Freud)?



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